Tourism down, but not out, business leaders say

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Political unrest and low season may have sapped Pattaya of its foreign tourists, but at least two of the city’s business leaders are hopeful of not only a high-season rebound, but confident that a surge in Thai tourism can make up the shortfall.

“Some years ago, Pattaya wasn’t much of an attraction to Thai tourists from Bangkok, but now things have changed and Pattaya has grown a lot more than expected,” said Sanpech Supabowornsthian, assistant managing director of The Zign hotel and president of the Thai Hotels Association – Eastern Chapter. “It’s only a short distance from Bangkok and it’s not just the nightlife that attracts them. Pattaya has more to offer, like monthly activities, the scenery and the beaches.”

Sanpech Supabowornsthian, Assistant Managing Director of The Zign Hotel Pattaya and president of the Thai Hotel Association - Eastern Chapter.Sanpech Supabowornsthian, Assistant Managing Director of The Zign Hotel Pattaya and president of the Thai Hotel Association – Eastern Chapter.

“The number of foreign patients who fly here mainly for medical treatments have dropped a little from last year because of the political turmoil, but we actually are getting more Thai patients,” said Dr. Pichit Kangwolkij, CEO of the Bangkok Hospital Group, Eastern Region.

One factor driving domestic tourism is the annual Pattaya Grand Sale, which The Zign promotes as “Thai Tiew Thai,” or “Thais Helping Thais.” The sale offers substantial discounts on accommodations, tourist attractions, entertainment and restaurants.

“The foreign tourists have decreased, but we are getting a lot more Thai tourists because of it,” Sanpech said. However, both men noted, the impact from the drop in foreign tourists, particularly Russians and Chinese, can’t be overlooked.

“The impact of the of losing 30 percent of tourists in the first half of this year has a slight effect to our hospital,” Pichit said. “Although we are getting more Russian patients, patients from other nations have dropped.”

“Russian tourists that were spotted in every corner of the city have decreased, as well as Chinese tourists,” agreed Sanpech. “But I’m sure they will be back.”

Reasons for the two executives’ optimism differ. For hotelier Sanpech, it’s because Pattaya itself is changing. For Pichit, it’s work the hospital group is doing to diversify its business.

Dr. Pichit Kangwolkij, CEO of the Bangkok Hospital Group, Eastern Region.Dr. Pichit Kangwolkij, CEO of the Bangkok Hospital Group, Eastern Region.

“Pattaya used to be best for singles, but now there are more families on the streets and that is what we are focusing on,” Sanpech said. “Pattaya has changed a lot. Some places and roads are improved, some are not. The question was, can the THA do something about it? And we certainly can.”

Bangkok Hospital Group is doing what it can to reach beyond its core medical center and medical tourists. It has opened three clinics in Naklua, South Pattaya and Jomtien Beach, the latter of which will be expanded into a full-service hospital in a few years.

“Even though Thailand is experiencing political problems, we are a genuine hospital that adheres to Thai law and provides full service with our experienced and qualified physicians and nurses,” he said.